The Secret to Trading a Broken Car for One That Actually Drives

Pro tip: Start with a lot of patience.

Aaron Brown

Craigslist car bartering is an art form—one that you need to have when you're attempting to offload a 15-year-old Subaru Impreza that almost certainly belongs in a junk yard. Last weekend, myself and my used car partner-in-crime traded our borderline undrivable, 230,000 mile Subaru 2.5RS coupe for a running Subaru Forester XS. 

Here's how we did it.

Limit details, but don't lie

Aaron Brown

The car we were trading away had been driven—hard—and that fact was obvious to anyone who looked at the car from any angle or distance. Whether you eyed the "SCCA RallyCross" banner spread across the top of the windshield, the "ICERACE.COM" sticker on the left side of the rear bumper, or the heavy mud caked deep into the wheel wells, you could tell this car probably didn't live an easy life. But I didn't exactly go out of my way to tell prospective owners this car had been raced or driven across the country at a breakneck pace (which it did). Was I wrong? Let's not be judgmental. 

In the interest of transparency (more likely laziness), I left the stickers on the car and the dirt as it was, and surprisingly, none of these things seemed to phase the determined buyer. In fact, he didn't bother to ask about any of it. So either he just accepted the 2.5RS as it was, or he didn't really care. 

Had he asked about any of it, I would've told him the truth. For example, the trader asked if the car had ever been in an accident, to which I responded, "Well, not with me, but maybe with one of the car's other 12 owners..."  

Yes, under our ownership, the car saw one double-duty rallycross, one snow autocross, and nearly two full ice races, but even though I didn't disclose every detail of its motorsport history, I did try to expose any issues that I was aware the car had. Those issues primarily being severe rust and a rod-knocking motor. 

Be willing to take a hit

Aaron Brown

Neither myself or the cars other co-owner, Mathias, were looking for a Forester. In fact, before this deal happened, neither of us would have thought of owning any Subaru crossover-SUV-wagon-thing except for maybe a one of those turbocharged Forester XTs or a turbocharged Outback XT. In fact, Mathias was pretty damn hesitant of the whole deal before he actually got to drive the car. But with a push from me and some lack of care, we went forward with the deal. 

And so far—three days later—we have no regrets. 

Distance

Distance undoubtedly played a significant role in this transaction. The other party was nice enough to trailer the Forester two and a half hours to meet me with the 2.5RS—though he may not have had much of a choice since there was no way I would be towing anything. But to do that, he had to actually rent a trailer and drive through windy and snowy highways of upstate New York. 

If you rent a trailer and drive two and a half hours, you do not want to leave without the car you came there for. So even if you don't realize just how poor the condition of the car that you agreed to buy is until you actually see it, you're going to be disappointed if you don't leave with that new-to-you car.

Have some patience

My Craigslist listing had an asking price of $900. I had only two people actually come to look at the car—one found the car to be too far gone, and the other traded me the Forester. But it took about a month to get rid of the Subie. If I was desperate or in a rush, I could've sold the car for a whole bunch less than I wanted to get for it—Mathias tried to pawn it off for $200 when he blew the motor but I held him back—or we could've just scrapped it. But I was fortunate enough to have a place where the car could rest for as long as it needed to until I found the right person to be its next owner. 

Brian Silvestro

Thankfully, that guy came sooner rather than later, and now Mathias and I are the proud owners of a 191,000 mile, manual transmission Forester XS.